For all intents and purposes, the Subaru 2018 Levorg is a WRX wagon. It’s built on the same platform as the WRX, shares the same 300 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four engine, has the same all-wheel drive system and is available with the same Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. Yet unlike the WRX, the CVT is the only transmission option here.
That’s an issue, and the Levorg has a couple others, despite some impressive specs and great everyday practicality. See, there’s always been pretty much two kinds of Subaru buyer: the rally hoons, and the people who just want a good, pragmatic, all-weather car. Sometimes the Levorg goes a little too far in the latter direction for enthusiasts’ tastes.
(Full Disclosure: Subaru of Japan needed me to test the Levorg so badly it loaned me one with a full tank of gas for a couple days.)
The name “Levorg” probably wouldn’t fly in North America, but it isn’t sold there anyway. The “LEgacy eVOlution touRinG” instead makes its home in Europe, Japan, Australia and other parts of Asia. It’s been around now since 2014.
Subaru describes it as a “GT Tourer,” which is basically a lifestyle-y way of calling it a wagon. See, the world hasn’t had a WRX hatchback (or wagon) since the last-generation, the one that ended around 2014. This, even though the Impreza can be had with a hatch. This is frustrating because tons of people like WRX and STI performance with space for your stuff in the back, and so it’s the niche the Levorg is supposed to fill. In theory.
It’s also meant to fill the gap between the WRX and larger Legacy, feeling like a WRX that decided to put on a suit—or at least a decent pair of pants—and go out and get a real job, maybe even have some kids. The basic recipe is there: turbocharged flat-four up front, a clever four-wheel drive system in the middle, and space for a dog or two at the back.
The test car here is in the top-spec STI Sport trim, which isn’t a full-on STI but has other goodies. There aren’t any upgrades to the engine, however, you do get some cosmetic upgrades to make it look the part such as 18-inch alloys, STI-branded exhaust tips, and Bilstein front suspension.
Levorg buyers only get two choices for engines; a 1.6-liter turbocharged boxer four with 170 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque, and the larger 2.0-liter turbocharged boxer four as tested here with 300 HP and 295 lb-ft of torque. (You may not know this, but Japan’s WRX STIs do not use the ancient but awesome 2.5-liter turbo boxer four that you Americans get, but now have an uprated, newer 2.0-liter motor.)
As I mentioned before, there’s no manual option.
Size-wise the Levorg measures in at 184.6 inches long, 70 inches wide and 58.6 inches high. It’s roughly the same size as a BMW 3 Series wagon and a smidgen bigger than its closest rival, the Volkswagen Golf R wagon. Subaru also says this is a spiritual successor to the Legacy Wagon despite being based on the current-generation WRX.
The 2.0-liter version weighs in at 3,461 lbs, which is respectable for a fully loaded wagon. Subaru claims an average fuel consumption of 31 mpg, yet the best I could eek out of it was 22mpg. It was decent on the motorway but for some odd reason Levorgs with the larger engine didn’t have stop-start, which is a weird omission in a 2018 car.
It’s not the biggest wagon, but it’s enough for carrying people without making them feel claustrophobic while transporting their lifestyle items, such as golf clubs and hoverboards.
There’s storage spaces galore with a cupholder for every occupant plus extra places to put large drink bottles. The generous cupholders alone makes it feel ready for the North American market.
It’s a good cruiser on long distance drives too, living up to that “GT Tourer” label. NVH levels are low with the only real intrusion coming from tire noise. The vast array of standard driving and safety aids means you can just cruise along the motorway without raising your pulse. The Eye Sight system, for the most part, is pretty damn good with stuff like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and pre-crash detection to keep you in check.
I liked the various cameras including two at the rear, a front facing camera, and side cameras. They definitely helped parking this thing in tight spaces around Tokyo.
As for being a good Subaru, it’s a bit give and take. The handling was typical—it inspires confidence when you push it around corners. You can get to the limits and know it’ll look after you. It felt planted and had predictability about it.
Three-hundred horses in a car this size makes the Levorg sound like some raucous performance machine, but it lacks the drama of a true STI. Still, it’s quick. It’s ridiculously easy to drive fast, too. Jump in, hit one of the ’S’ buttons, mash the throttle and it’ll just pull nice and hard.
Thanks to the clever four-wheel drive system you can do that rain or shine. There’s no denying its performance—it goes like how a powerful Subaru wagon should go, with a solid punch above 2400 RPMs or so.
For a lot of reasons, the Levorg makes for a very good, all-around daily performance car, with practicality and confidence in any kind of weather. For a lot of reasons. Not all reasons.
See, then there’s the CVT. It’s significantly better than CVTs of the past, yes. In its most aggressive drive mode, S#, the peaky torque coupled with no physical gears means there’s an almost EV feel to the seamlessness of the acceleration. It’s a weird sensation to say the least.
But the CVT also sucks the life out of the Levorg. I wanted to give the Levorg a fair chance so I approached it with an unbiased mind, but it could’ve been so much better with a proper gearbox. Sure the CVT is effective at what it does but there’s no feel or connection. There are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel with eight programmed “ratios” to make it feel sportier, but they just made the experience feel too much like a video game rather than a real car. I just ended up leaving it in D most of the time.
According to Keisuke Hashimoto, a corporate spokesman for Subaru Japan, the CVT was the “best solution to realize both environmental performance and driving performance.” I understand the need for an automatic and can almost understand why some customer like CVTs, but a car with sporting aspirations like the Levorg especially in STi Sport trim should at least have a manual option.
More than that, since this car sells in places like Asia and Europe—you know, where people actually buy manuals rather than just saying how they would in internet comment sections like you Americans—a stick-shift feels like a weird omission here.
Another weakness is the noise, or rather lack of it. Coupled with the CVT, mash the throttle and there’s not much to indicate you’ve got 300 HP under the hood. You get a faint boxer rumble only if you have the windows down, otherwise there really isn’t a sense that you’re in a sporty wagon—let alone a Subaru.
The interior, while bearing nice materials and coming equipped with bags of stuff standard, looked a bit ordinary. There’s a large central display, which was at least nice and clear making it ideal for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. But there’s also another display at the top of the center console that has a bunch of info unrelated to the other driver display in the gauge cluster. There was just a lot to look at, and not much of it was particularly interesting.
Then there’s the exterior. It’s not a bad looking car but personally I would’ve preferred if it was a little bit wider to give it a more aggressive stance. Even if the wheel arches stuck out a tiny bit more with wider tires, it would’ve made it look more purposeful.
The drive from Tokyo to the roads around Mount Haruna is a two hour drive each way on a motorway. The Levorg is a properly good motorway companion taking in all the miles without breaking a sweat. Even with the firmer suspension on the STi Sport, which was noticeable on harsher road surfaces, it never got the point of being uncomfortable.
Visibility is great with large windows and little in the way of blind spots. Driving it around town was easy thanks to the electrically-assisted power steering system, if not a little too easy. The turning circle was impressively good too.
Needless to say, 300 HP is definitely enough for day to day driving. There are three driving modes: I (intelligent), S (sport) and S# (sport sharp) adjusts the throttle response. I is best for fuel economy while the other two are easy enough to decipher. I kept it in S around town most of the time because S# was too jumpy for my liking.
While it stayed in S in town, it was always in S# driving up Mount Haruna. The 2.0-liter engine never felt like it was lacking in power. It was a gutsy and responsive engine pulling the Levorg up and down the Initial D road with no issues.
There’s an initial lag and all of a sudden once the turbo kicks in you’re off. On a tight, twisty road like the on Mount Haruna I was glad the Levorg had some damn effective brakes.
Driving this on the Initial D road was a good a test as any. No, it can’t drift, but it went around the “Five Hairpins” with ease and carried speed out of the corners and up on the straights. It just got on with the job of conquering corners without any drama. I didn’t add any new tire marks on the hallowed grounds. Taking the road back downhill, it never felt like it’d veer out into the guardrails or over the edge of the mountain.
The Levorg didn’t mind being tossed around corners. The steering was a bit light for my liking but gave decent feedback. The Active Torque Vectoring kept the car in check for most of the time. By which I mean, drive it like a complete moron and that’s when it’d respond with understeer.
Subaru says it can split up torque 45:55 front to rear, but it never once felt like it was going to oversteer out of control.
For the STi Sport, the trade off for the firmer ride due to the Bilstein suspension was better body control. The Levorg always felt light on its feet. It didn’t feel clunky or cumbersome, but on a road as fun as this one—and I’d encourage any visitor to Japan to check it out—the lack of a manual is felt in spades.
The Levorg drives well but without a proper gearbox it was hard to connect and engage fully with the car. Hell, even a normal auto or dual-clutch would’ve been more acceptable.
Since the Ford Focus ST wagon, Skoda Octavia vRS wagon, and Seat Leon Cupra wagon aren’t sold in Japan, the closest rival to the Levorg would be the VW Golf R Variant. Like the Levorg, it’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, has four-wheel drive, space for five and similar power.
Unlike the Levorg, prices for the Golf R Wagon in Japan start from the equivalent of $54,135, over $15,000 more. That’s before you start adding options. With the Levorg, everything you could possible need is also included as standard in the STi Sport trim pack. The only option on my test car was the sunroof.
When I asked Hashimoto about the possibility of a manual option he said he was unable to talk about future product plans. I got the same reply when I asked if the Levorg could end up on North American shores in the future. The reason why this generation never made it Stateside was “based on Subaru’s consideration of characteristics, needs, and trend of each market.”
Basically, they didn’t see a viable business case in selling a wagon in North America. Given the glut of wagons for sale there right now from Buick, Jaguar and even Porsche amid the crossover boom, I’m not sure I agree with that call. If the Levorg ever had a shot at success in America, it would be right now.
Still, the end result is a mixed bag. The Levorg could’ve been so much to so many people. On one hand it’s a perfectly fine sports wagon with solid performance, great value, and practicality to boot. On the other hand the CVT and lack of noise makes it devoid of any sporting personality.
But perhaps that’s where I’ve approached this car wrong. Maybe it’s best to not see it as a performance wagon, despite what we all want it to be. Instead, remember this is a “GT Tourer,” a lifestyle wagon that’s grown up, sensible, and comfortable. The WRX powertrain is just a bonus.
It’s a great wagon that’d make a great daily, but it’s not one of the great Subarus that’ll make you want to take it out to your favorite road on the weekends.